It’s always a high-intensity affair when you’re taking on Albirex Niigata, and it was no different when we faced them in a pre-season friendly yesterday. The match-up offered the team a closer look at the new Japanese imports for this year, with the fresh-look side including star signing Tadanari Lee, among other notable names.
As the closed-door friendly kicked off, so did the waterworks. The rain started pouring over Jalan Besar Stadium. The match began with our side showcasing good attacking passages, something that definitely came with the hours of hard work over training sessions. Big Bad Boris Kopitović, playing in his usual spot at the tip of our offense, was unlucky to have a few marginal offside calls going against him.
On the other side of the pitch, our defense withstood the attacking threat of Lee Tadanari and the Albirex midfielders, who looked to pick off clean through passes, but were stifled by our tight, pressing defense. The energetic back-and-forth affair continued for 15 minutes, before the fixture was postponed due to a lightning risk alert, offering the players and coaching staff of both sides to regroup.
When the game restarted after an hour, it was evident that battle plans were drawn on both sides during the interlude.
A series of battering offensive sequences culminated in a corner that drew shades of how we scored in our first friendly. Alas, the resulting header was not to be. An equally lively display came in particular from Albirex midfielder Idetsu Masaya, who played 1-2s in the middle of the park and provided precise crosses for the opposing side, which was dealt with by keeper Syazwan Buhari.
Debutant Ethan Pinto put in an inspired performance in midfield, providing an anchor point from which we played out from, and providing key outlet passes along the way. Deservingly so, he received a round of applause from his fellow teammates as he was replaced by Ong Yu En. He didn’t take long to make an impact either, with his controlled shot from a messy clearance hitting the right-hand post. And mind you, that was just the first half.
After a water break, the second period began with a continued energizing performance from our Stags, crescendoing in a counter attack that ended with a shot from Zehrudin Mehmedović that sailed just wide, perhaps our brightest spot in the period.
It was a night for our returnees, as Iman Hakim came on as well, injecting another option in our midfield - one play of note was a nice one-two, finding Boris, whose 1-on-1 with a defender unfortunately failed to lead to a goal.
The final whistle blew soon enough, marking an entertaining 0-0 draw. The team’s intentions were clear, and we played with our identity at all areas of the pitch, ever present in the way we shifted the ball around to find the open man even during times of pressure. The team rued its missed chances, but showed very promising signs of its positive brand of football, a sentiment echoed by Assistant Coach, Mustafic Fahrudin.
“I think there were a lot of good moments that we had, we dominated possession against very good opponents in Albirex, who we always know are very difficult to play against. We created 3 or 4 very good chances but the deciding goal was missing - however, we are very happy with the performance from the boys.” said the coach.
Debutant Ethan Pinto, who himself had an outrageous long-range effort rattling the crossbar in the first half, shared his thoughts on his first showing, “It wasn’t easy, especially being my first game and in the heavy rain, but I really enjoyed my time out on the pitch and I thought it went well. I’m hoping to continue building on the performance today for the future as well.”
Our famed icon and Assistant Coach, Mustafic Fahrudin ended off with a pertinent point : “We are always very clear here at the club - it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, if you train and do well, you will play. Ethan has been doing very well in the pre-season so far. We decided to give him a chance and I thought he did very well.”
Stay tuned for more coverage as your Tampines Rovers continues to get #PRIMED for the 2022 season to come!